See if you can follow me here: imagine the first game in a series as a single-layered cake; the cake is moist, it has scrumptiously sweet icing, and is generally yummy. When the second game in the series comes out of the “oven,” it should have two layers, more icing, and maybe some rosettes and other decorative trim.
In the case of Dead Island: Riptide, publisher Deep Silver and developer Techland simply plopped another basic single-layered cake onto the table next to the first one and did nothing but plant a small paper flag on its surface that says, “2.”
Riptide adds a few new elements, but not enough to keep a certain amount of exhaustion and a large amount of cross-game repetition from setting in.
Riptide picks up immediately as the first game ends. The four survivors (Asian Chick, Douchebag Jock, Tough Chick, and Black Guy Stereotype) seem to be on their way to safety from the tropical zombie apocalypse. However, they are captured by Shady Government Meanies© so their immunity to the virus can be tested and studied. The ship that is imprisoning our copy/paste video game heroes crashes on (conveniently enough for the game’s artists and level designers) yet another tropical island filled with yet more tropical zombies. This time the group of four becomes five, as they pick up another survivor: Angry Military Guy.
I can’t fault the game’s cheesiness too much, because, let’s face it: this is a game all about bashing zombie skulls, not retelling Shakespeare. Each of the five playable characters have their own fighting specialty (blades, blunts, guns, fists, gangsta-rap-bad-ass-ness, etc.), but at the end of the day the only thing separating these characters is what their legs look like when you pan the camera down. The player is going to pick a character at the beginning of the game that looks most appealing, and then play the game using whatever weapons are convenient. It’s not like you might be playing as the Asian Chick (blade expert), and come across a pistol and think to yourself: “Oh, I can’t use that because I’m not playing as Tough Chick (gun specialist).” No, you’re going to pick up the damn gun and start popping z’s.
Did you play the first Dead Island? Then you played Riptide.
For those of you who have not, you spend 15-20 hours wandering around a tropical island collecting anything that could even vaguely be used as a weapon, and start pounding, chopping, shooting, electrocuting, and setting on fire a variety of zombie types. There are a handful of interesting story quests interspersed among 834,927 fetch-me-this and find-this-person quests. These fetch/find-quests force you to retrace your steps many times, and visit areas constantly repopulated with countless walking dead things. The saving grace of this annoyance is the fact that the zombies level up with your character. So, trekking through the same stretch of jungle for the 138th time will yield zombies that are heartier than the ones you encountered your first time through. What exactly the zombies did to earn higher levels, however, remains a mystery.
Riptide offers boats as a new vehicle type; zombies try to pull you overboard (“Ahoy, thar be zombies in these here waters!”). There’s a new zombie type that floats in the water as if it were (truly) dead, and then ambushes you when you get close. It’s a nice idea, except whenever you see a zombie floating in the water, you know exactly what to expect when you get close to it. And then there’s the defense missions. A pox on you, defense missions! Second only to escort-the-NPC-with-the-brain-dead-A.I. missions, defense missions in video games are always a major buzz-kill. In this case, you occasionally come across survivor camps that never need any help defending themselves until you show up. Camp inhabitants are good for trading and buying items, as well as endlessly repetitive reminder dialog. “Hey, Mortimer needs to talk to you in the massage hut!” “Yeah, thanks for that reminder… it’s only the 17th time you've said that in the last 53 seconds.”
The big draw of the game is co-op play. You and your buddies can take on the zombie hordes together. Techland reinstated a great co-op feature where two players with completely different levels can play together and have a great time. If you’re only at level 2, but your buddy is level 30, the zombies you encounter will be auto-leveled in difficulty for each of you. Additionally, you can import your already-leveled-up character from your Dead Island 1 playthrough and use him or her in Riptide. But you may want to think twice before doing this because you begin Riptide without any of the advanced weapons you found/created in the previous game, and are forced to battle advanced-level zombies using entry-level weapons.
Unfortunately, a lot of the “derp” that was rampant in the first game remains firmly in place in the sequel. For one, why does it cost money to upgrade and fix your weapons? There’s no one manning the work benches, nor are there slots you feed cash into that somehow turn on the benches. I guess everyone in Dead Island operates on the honor system: even though repairing a hammer costs 20-times the price of a brand new one, I’m okay with that and am just going to leave a pile of cash here on the work bench for when the work bench patrol comes by to collect its fees. Speaking of which, weapons still degrade way too quickly. I would imagine a meat slicer might get somewhat dull after visiting the frontal lobes of a few dozen zombies, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t annoying, from a gameplay standpoint.
Last, but not least, is the hysterically insane rain effect. I’m not sure if this is a bug or sloppy design, but when it begins raining in Riptide, it goes from sunny to a cloudy downpour literally immediately. A storm system that would take, at the very least, a couple of hours to settle in begins dumping rain at monsoon levels as if someone flipped a switch.
Not surprisingly, Riptide looks almost identical to the first game… that is to say, mostly very average with occasional flashes of awesome. Once again using Chrome Engine, Riptide can produce gorgeous tropical vistas one second, and then ugly, blocky geometry the next. Same goes with lighting and textures: some textures look vividly detailed, while others look like smeared mucous. Supple sunlight can pour through palm fronds, but the shadows they cast are low res and distractingly ugly. Water surfaces seems to have been slightly touched up since the last game, but water still does not react in real-time.
The same horribly annoying player-character comments return in Riptide. I don’t know how many times I muttered, “God, will you shut the f’ up?” to my on-screen avatar until I realized in the audio menu there is a way to kill the character comments. THANK YOU!
There’s not too much memorable about the game’s audio, other than its repetition. The game’s music serves its purpose well enough, and there are some brilliant passages evocative of the sublimely cheesy ‘70s/’80s synthesizer scores in films by John Carpenter and George Romero.
Soon after the game’s launch I was running into a glitch where the screen would go completely black (except for HUD overlays) when entering certain areas. This has since been patched.
Also of note, on the eve of the game’s release NVIDIA released a batch of drivers (320.00 Beta) with optimizations for this game, and I highly recommend you use them. Without 320.00, the game is extremely sluggish.
Your enjoyment of Riptide will simply be a combination of how much you liked the first Dead Island, and your desire for more of the same. Additionally, your ability to withstand a fair amount of “derp” will also be a deciding factor. While the sequel introduces a few new additions to the Dead Island formula, they are not nearly enough to make Riptide feel like nothing more than a lazy, overpriced and overlong expansion pack.
Lead one of five cookie-cutter stereotypes through a tropical zombie hell; supposedly different characters all end up playing the same way.
The combat mechanics work well enough (and are still fun), but the new defense missions are irritating; all of the first game’s annoyances return.
It’s time to put Chrome Engine out to pasture; flashes of eye-pleasing visuals are sprinkled amongst a very average-looking game.
Some of Riptide’s music tips its hat to the movies that inspired it.
FINAL SCORE: C